One can always remember when one first heard a new word, a new combination of sounds, or a word used differently. ‘Bling’ appeared one day on an Institute of Architects invitation to an Awards evening. The dress-up game for the evening was to be ‘bling.’ Why do such events always have to try to include a theatrical party performance? Still, it was interesting to learn the new word that one now sees just too frequently both as texts and objects.
Other words that have surprised are ‘religiosity’ and ‘seachange.’ These are a little different as they are uncommon words now back in use, with more words spinning off from these, like ‘treechange.’ Shakespeare created ‘seachange’ and many other words that we use every day. Surprisingly, in our era, other words grow into common usage from advertising jingles and movies. Language is a fertile and vibrant tongue, with English seeming to be the most adaptable and flexible of all.
One of the latest new usages is of an existing word being given an apparently different reference. The word is ‘segway,’ used as a verb, as in ‘to segway’ a subject; and as a noun, ‘the segway,’ the subject as outcome. This was heard first on ABC News, and again, such is synchronicity, on ABC Radio National: Geraldine Doogue. This usage is very puzzling. A quick Google search seems to suggest that the word is a homophone of ‘segue,’ the Italian word for ‘to follow; to transition to without a pause.’ So it is not a new usage for the name of an electric scooter; it merely sounds like it. Still, one has to ask why it is that one has never heard this word used previously. Is it merely a matter of fashion, like ‘like,’ ‘cool,’ and ‘awesome’? “Like, is it just cool to use the awesome word ‘segue’,” especially when it sounds like ‘segway’ - to scoot along?
But there was a more recent set of letters that combined two words to create another not known before: ‘Starchitects.’ The term is a good one as it makes its subject reference very clear: ‘star architects’ - and we all know about these folk. The sound seems to grow from the ‘lazy tongue’ syndrome. Like ‘Sandness’ in Shetland, that is pronounced locally as ‘Sanness,’ the sounds in ‘Starchitects’ are smoothed out into an easy movement of the mouth, eliminating any pause required for a more careful articulation. It was first heard in a conversation with a colleague who was chatting about an article in The Australian: see below.
One puts the letters ‘starchitect’ into Google and surprisingly the term looks to be a common one. There are many entries led by Wikipedia that has a lengthy explanation of the, well, word: see - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starchitect Does one call this a word? It is a little like E-mail addresses that are given as a set of letters that get described as being “all one word,” when it is not, with the intention really being to say that there are no gaps, spaces or other interruptions in the string of pieces of the alphabet. A quick look at Google images in this ‘Starchitect’ search illustrates the concept in much the manner that one might envisage, with the repeated declaration that ‘I AM ME.’
Stars – Hollywood. The whole world has become tuned to understand everything of value through ‘stars’: no stars or low stars means no or low rating, value, importance or significance. And now architecture has joined the queue. It already has ‘green stars’ for environmental measure and performance; and there are star ratings on electrical equipment to identify efficiency; and star ratings on water taps and fittings too. But now architecture has the ‘personal’ stars. Once in the past they were called 'masters' and were treated as 'heroes.' But with matters becoming much more generalised and pushed and promoted by the daily media hype, where is this notion taking architecture?
The article, originally in The Times, (see below), shows one impact of this fashion: planners, it seems, will not stand in the way of the ‘stars.’ Do they feel intimidated? Are they frightened that the brilliance of the performance and its outcome might be stymied by their mediocre intervention? Is this the argument that the cunning developers use to gain height and floor area? The world is gathering ‘star’ works that are truly ‘outstanding,’ such is their stark difference to the everyday and their blatant claim to genius.
Here, it seems to me, is where beauty matters and how. Over time people establish styles, patterns and vocabularies that perform, in the building of cities, the same function as good manners between neighbours. Like manners, aesthetic conventions should operate as side-constraints; dictating not what we do but the way we do it, so that whatever our goals we advance towards them gradually and considerately. A ‘neighbour’, according to the Anglo-Saxon etymology, is one who ‘builds nearby’. The buildings that go up in our neighbourhood matter to us, in just the way that our neighbours matter. They demand our attention, and shape our lives. They can overwhelm us or soothe us; they can be an alien presence or a home. And the function of aesthetic values in the practice of architecture is to ensure that the primary requirement of every building is served - namely, that it should be a fitting member of a community of neighbours. Buildings need to fit in, to stand appropriately side by side; they are subject to the rule of good manners just as much as people are.
page 274 – 275
Roger Scruton, Green Philosophy How to think seriously about this planet, Atlantic Books, London, 2012.
What we are now seeing is a desire for everyone to be a star, with every building trying to be the most unique, the most eye-catching, the most extreme of outrageous possibilities, the most different. Vernacular is everything else, a different sense of order: see Christopher Alexander, The Nature of Order, 2004.
The term ‘starchitect’ is catching on, but we need to be wary of it and its ambitions becoming commonplace, expected in the everyday. Vernacular is commonplace and creates common place - community. Our aim needs to be the making of ordinary, common places that hold spirit and beauty simply, with a natural ease. To try to make a vernacular out of extremes is just nonsense; but our society pushes for all of this exaggeration in its twenty-four-hour hype.
As Roger Scruton says, we need to make changes personally. Complaining about car manufacturers, big business, retailers, etc. destroying the environment is a nonsense as we all clamour for these services to be provided as cheaply as possible everyday. We need to kerb our whims, our greed, our appetites if we are to make a difference. This can be said for architecture too. We need to subdue the lust for grandeur.
. . . another way of looking at environmental problems, one that is . . . in keeping with human nature and also the conservative philosophy that springs from the routines of everyday life. . . . I propose a perspective on those problems that will make them seem like our problems, which we can solve, using our given moral equipment.
. . . environmental problems must be addressed by all of us in our everyday circumstances . . . Their solution is possible only if people are motivated to confront them . . .
I describe this motive (or rather, the family of motives) as oikophilia, the love and feeling for home.’
Roger Scruton, Green Philosophy How to think seriously about this planet, Atlantic Books, London, 2012.
It comes down to matters intimate and individual. Without these changes, we will just continue on the roller coaster ride to ever uniquely expressive extremes that declare ‘I am a star;’ ‘I am brilliant;’ ‘I stand out,’ without taking notice of any neighbour; of anyone; of any place. Responsibility demands otherwise, and so does common sense too. We need an architecture of concern, humility and care; an architecture stripped of all of its effort and pretence: and architects too. But what should it profit a man? . . . . .comes to mind. It is a question that remains as valid today as ever.
Maybe the word game should extend from ‘starchitect’ to ‘starkertect’ and ‘starkertecture,’ using ‘starkers’ with ‘architecture’ to describe an architecture devoid of the nonsensical hype and purposeless indulgences produced by a ‘starkertect’ who is not a ‘star.’? One might consider it a naked architecture.
adjective, adverb British Informal
wearing no clothes; naked.
1905-10; stark-(naked) + -ers
This would give us ‘starkertecture’ that might be more inclusive, ironically, more modest in its nakedness. ‘Starkertects’ working with such an understanding and ambition might also start giving us cities that do not start to look as though they are suffering from an uncontrolled outbreak of a plague of carbuncle growths: just look at London! Then look at old Paris, carefully avoiding the view of all of the new carbuncles – the suppurating gems.
Pathology. A painful circumscribed inflammation of the subcutaneous tissue, resulting in suppuration and sloughing, and having a tendency to spread somewhat like a boil, but more serious in its effects.
a gemstone, especially a garnet, cut with a convex back and a cabochon surface.
Also called London brown. a dark grayish, red-brown colour.
Obsolete. Any rounded gem.
having the colour of carbuncle.
1150-1200, Middle English < Anglo-
French < Latin carbunculus kind of precious stone, tumour, literally live coal, equivalent of carbon –
(stem of carbõ) burning charcoal + culus -
cule1, apparently assimilated to derivatives from short- vowel stems, cf. homunculus
Starchitects shape London skyline
FEBRUARY 18, 2014
WORDSWORTH may have written of a London of domes, theatres, ships and temples, but the city’s hallowed silhouette is now a skyline dotted with towers that taper and twist.
Often half-mocked with witty sobriquets such as the “Gherkin” and “Cheesegrater”, these skyscrapers have been realised from the sketch pads of some the world’s most famous architects.
However, a report from the London School of Economics claims that it is not only a desire for world-class design that prompts London developers to hire world-renowned architects but an attempt to “game the planning system and squeeze more lettable space on to a given site”.
The research suggests that although Britain’s highly regulated planning system produces “surprisingly few cases of proven corruption”, it does procure a “more gentlemanly form of rent-seeking behaviour” by developers: the employment of “trophy architects”.
Paul Cheshire and Gerard Dericks analysed 515 buildings around the world and found that developers who hired a “starchitect” were able to build 19 floors higher on average than a building designed by a standard architect. Mr Cheshire said: “Even looking at Canary Wharf, the buildings there are about twice as high as those in La Defense in Paris.”
He said Britain had one of the most tightly regulated land markets in the developed world as well as firm restrictions on building heights. Also, London has protected “strategic views” of St Paul’s Cathedral and the Palace of Westminster from London parks. These impede the overall supply of new tower developments but offer the prospect of higher rents on skyscrapers that can be built.
Mr Cheshire said this was why London might not have as many tall buildings as New York or Hong Kong but tops the league for the proportion of its skyscrapers designed by famous architects. Nearly a quarter of all the towers in the capital have been imagined by a top architect, compared with only 3 per cent in Chicago, the city considered the cradle of modern architecture.
Renzo Piano, the architect who designed The Shard, has won the Pritzker Prize, the top architectural award. His design was approved only after the British government overruled the local authority.
30 MARCH 2017
NOTE: for more on segue, see JARGON in the sidebar.